Madhosh Balhami was sitting in his courtyard feeding his two cows grass one afternoon in March 2018, when he heard the sound of gunshots at a distance. A short time later, three men came running past him, towards a leafy, tree-lined path descending on his left. As soon as they took a few steps down the stairs, they abruptly turned and came running back, straight into Balhami’s brick-and-stone house in Balhama, a saffron-growing village on the outskirts of Srinagar.
He knew at that moment that his house was marked.
Balhami is the pen name of Ghullam Mohammad, a 52-year-old saffron farmer and poet. The three men who had run in were members of Ghazwat-ul-Hind, a new militant group led by Zakir Musa that claims links to Al Qaeda and supports the Islamic State. Hours after the militants ran into his house on 15 March, Indian security forces set his house on fire.
At that time, the only thing Balhami knew about the men was that they were young. They looked like children, he thought. “They said, ‘We are so tired, we need to die. We don’t want to be captured alive. So please, you go from here and save your own life,’” Balhami recounted two months later, sitting on a thin rug in the only remaining room of his house.
Unable to persuade the militants to leave, Balhami and his family ran out of their house, carrying nothing. His two cows were left standing in the court yard, Soon afterward, the security forces who had been chasing the militants appeared. There were thousands of them, he said—they had surrounded the entire village. He was watching from his brother’s house, a short distance away. They heard the sound of mortar shells. Around 6 pm, they saw the house burning. It burned until two o’clock the next morning, Balhami said. No one slept that night.